Tag Archives: American cuisine

Midwestern Umami

October 9, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you have heard anything about Suji’s Korean Grill, it is probably that the restaurant is “Chipotle for Korean food,” an analogy trumpeted from many a Yelp review and word-of-mouth recommendation.

It’s an accurate assessment of the initial Suji’s that opened near 72nd and Pacific streets in July 2016, but the comparison becomes less apt as the eatery evolves in response to diner feedback.

“I found customers want to see more authentic Korean food and bolder flavors, so we’ve upgraded our menu to meet that demand,” says Suji Park, proprietor of Suji’s Korean Grill. Park is also the founder and “chief inspiration officer” of Suji’s Korean Cuisine, her line of prepackaged Korean meats, sauces, and bibimbap bowls sold at retailers like Whole Foods and Target.

Now, the woman who brought the brunch boom to Korea is working to mainstream Korean cuisine for Americans—and she’s excited to see strong demand for authenticity.

Park originally came to Nebraska to partner with University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Innovation Campus, which lent cutting-edge preservation techniques to the development of her prepackaged foods. The international restaurateur of 12 years then chose Omaha to launch her first stateside eatery.

bibimbap

bibimbap

Park’s something of a culinary babel fish, translating Asian dishes for Americans, and American cuisine like brunch and New York-style deli fare for an Asian market in her Seoul and Tokyo restaurants. Now, the woman who brought the brunch boom to Korea is working to mainstream Korean cuisine for Americans—and she’s excited to see strong demand for authenticity.

Park says meeting that demand means moving Suji’s from a strict fast-casual concept to a hybrid style, where customers still order at the counter but food is freshly prepared in 10 minutes or less. The extra prep time allows for more menu variation, including the addition of dup-bap dishes—hearty meat and vegetables served “over rice”—like beef and pork bulgogi, and dak jjim, a savory, almost stewy, spicy braised chicken thigh with potato, carrot, and onion. 

Park also added japchae, a well-executed traditional Korean noodle dish of thin, stir-fried sweet potato noodles tossed with carrots, onions, scallions, and a choice of marinated beef, chicken, or plump shiitakes. Available as a side or entree, it’s unique and versatile enough to appeal to vegetarians and omnivores alike.

a selection of banchan

a selection of banchan

Another standout dish is the kimchi bacon rice: sautéed rice mixed with the sour bite of kimchi and the salty splendor of uncured, antibiotic-free bacon with an important texture assist from crisp cucumber, spring greens, and scallions. A perfectly cooked soft-fried egg and sesame seeds top the dish, which in total presents like the food equivalent of an expertly struck multipart harmony, the many flavors and texture elements uniting for one tasty whole.

Suji’s offers several flavorful sauces and kimchi varieties that further elevate these dishes, so diners would be wise to add them according to taste—in my case liberally, as I found such additions often lent an important layer of flavor.

Many elements will not change, including original menu items like bibimbap bowls and Korean street tacos, Suji’s inviting communal seating, and Park’s overarching commitment to all-natural ingredients. In her restaurants and prepackaged foods, Park insists on no MSG, binders, artificial colorings, flavors, or preservatives, and a gluten-conscious approach.

“We’ll never change our all-natural mission or authenticity,” says Park. “We want people to fully experience Korean meals, so we’re also introducing banchan, small dishes, like tapas, with a main dish.”

Korean street tacos

Korean street tacos

Park’s mother, Younja Kim, is visiting from Korea for several months to help develop a variety of rotating homemade banchan and kimchi. Suji’s will also host educational sessions, inviting Omahans to learn how to make varieties of kimchi.

“I’m excited to show people what Korean food is about,” she says. “I’m in the food industry because I love people, and food brings people together.”

Visit sujiskoreangrill.com for more information.

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Contemporary Pub Fare

May 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jackson Street Tavern offers contemporary American cuisine in a casual atmosphere. Chef and co-owner Deke Reichardt is hesitant to label it “fine dining.” He explained, “People have a lot of options in this neighborhood and city, so we pride ourselves in not being pretentious.”

Reichardt also explained that the inclusion of the word “tavern” in the name was never meant to imply a bar-like atmosphere. “The name of the place was meant to imply that it’s a relaxed tavern-esque atmosphere that serves good quality food.” He is proud of the menu options and the quality of the cuisine. “We source as much as we can when the season is right. It’s good stuff. We don’t even have much in the way of freezer space, which is by design because of physical limitations.”

Jackson-St.-2Of note is the extensive gluten-free menu options available. “My wife eats gluten-free and my mother-in-law has Celiac,” he explained. “We wanted to not just offer a couple items but have something a little more extensive for people with special dietary needs.” Though the specific menu items frequently change and evolve, gluten-free options range from appetizers, to entrée salads, to bunless burgers, desserts, and more.

One of the most popular items—the duck tacos—landed on the menu as a result of Reichardt’s ingenuity. He explains, “The irony is that when I put the original menu together I definitely wanted to have duck on the menu. Roast duck was my first preference, so the only issue was what am I going to do with the leftover duck?…So we started to break it down and pull the meat and make little tacos with fresh tomatillo salsa. Honestly, we roast more ducks for duck tacos than we do for roast duck.”

Jackson Street Tavern is also known for its Sunday brunch. “It was just going to be Easter, Mother’s Day, and those popular brunch days, but it was so well received we decided to keep doing it,” said Reichardt. “We do brunch every Sunday from 10 to 2. It’s not a brunch buffet; it’s a la carte table service. It’s one of the most consistent meal periods that we have.” Reichardt added that reservations are encouraged; however, “generally speaking, there’s going to be space for walk-ins.The exception would usually be on those special occasions.”

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Beyond the menu, the casual atmosphere of Jackson Street Tavern is one of the most appealing aspects for regulars. FITGirl founder Cheri Dickmeyer says, “I love the ambiance. The dark wood and low key lighting make the entire space comfortable and relaxing. The menu is unique and fresh, and I was pleasantly surprised at how affordable the items were on the menu. Very upscale restaurant with Midwest pricing—I love it!”

Jackson Street Tavern recently added a private dining room to accommodate large groups and opened a patio space that Reichardt calls “a nice addition.” He’s proud of the solid reputation Jackson Street Tavern has built and foresees a bright future. “We recognize that we’re only as good as the last meal we serve or glass of wine we pour, and we don’t take that for granted.”  Encounter

Visit jacksonstreettavern.com for more info.

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